GET YOUR GAME ON
Mattel muffs card-video combination
To some toy executive out there, it must've seemed like a great idea: "Hey, that 8-to-12-year-old 'tween' market likes collectible card games and video games, so why don't we combine the two into one grand system? It'll have all the fun of video games, but with the added customizability of CCGs!"
The result: Mattel's HyperScan, the melding of a simple CD-ROM-based video game system with a card scanner. Each game has a stock of cards that adds characters to the game or boosts characters' abilities. Players scan the appropriate cards when prompted by the game. In keeping with the "collectible" aspect, some cards -- usually the more powerful ones -- are rarer.
A cool concept? Perhaps. But a few quirks prevent it from fulfilling its promise.
The HyperScan is light and compact, not much bigger than a vinyl CD carrying case and only about 2 inches thick. It unfolds like a book, with the game tray on one half and the card scanner on the other. But the rounded outer edges allow the system to rock far too easily. The two halves also don't lock into position, further adding to the instability.
The controllers are designed for "tween" hands but can be comfortably held by adults. Four buttons on the face of the controller, color-coded red, green, blue and yellow, are labeled -- surprise, surprise! -- "R," G," "B" and "Y." On the top of the controller are left and right "shoulder" buttons and left and right "trigger" buttons.
While the easy button identification will help younger gamers, and its light weight will certainly be enough for that age to handle, the controller's construction still feels flimsy.
The console comes with one controller, an "X-Men" game and six game cards. Additional cards are available in six-card booster packs, sold separately. Also available separately are two other game-and-card combos, "Ben 10" and "Interstellar Wrestling League."
The cards, which appear at first glance to be simply cardboard, contain technology that retains character data. In "X-Men," players earn points to raise their character's stats, then save the updated information to the card by re-scanning it.
But the scanning system, key to HyperScan's much-touted hybrid nature, is finicky. While attack and defense cards for "X-Men" seem to scan easily, character cards often take special handling. Be prepared to hear lots of "bzzts" as the console refuses to recognize the scan, even after instructions are carefully followed.
Loading times are also a terror for the main game, beefed-up characters or battle scenarios.
Whether these are flaws of the system or the game is uncertain, but in either case, it certainly doesn't give a good impression. All these delays could cost the attention of notoriously short-attention-spanned kids.
In "X-Men," players may choose a one- or two-player game, check their character stats or head to the "Danger Room" for minigames that increase such character stats as strength and intelligence.
For each game session, players scan in a character card and up to two additional cards to temporarily boost their base stats. The two-card limit will be a downer for those who want to really beef up their characters, but it does level the playing field.
Gameplay is sorely lacking. Button presses often don't register, causing noticeable lags in onscreen action, and the characters move so slowly it's as if the creators wanted to make absolutely sure that kids wouldn't have seizures while playing.
The best way to describe this game is as a fancy version of those old plastic "Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots" toys: Punch and kick ad nauseam until someone keels over. If you're lucky, you might even have a special move or two.
This might be fine for those who have never played a one-on-one fighting game before, but anyone who has played games like "Street Fighter II" will be disappointed.
To do more requires scanning more cards. Because the system comes with only six, booster packs come into play fairly quickly.
One selling point is that it's playable right out of the box. If you've got other kids clamoring to play, though, remember to pick up an extra controller.
The potential cost is probably what will be most prohibitive for its target demographic. Although the base system, at $70, is a bargain compared to other systems, $10 booster packs will quickly add to the cost of the $20 games. The "X-Men" game alone lists 102 cards to collect.
Is it enough to make that lucrative "tween" market stop pleading for, say, a PlayStation 3 or a Nintendo Wii? If they have any prior experience with video games, probably not. As a starter system for younger children, though, it has benefits. Just be prepared to deal with the fallout from impatient kids.
The HyperScan is available most anywhere electronic toys are sold, including Wal-Mart, Kmart and Toys "R" Us.